Can you feel it in the air? That sense of nervous desperation mixed with excitement? It's coming from the offices of every studio awards planner, publicist, talent manager, agent and ad sales rep in the greater Hollywood area (and a little bit of Manhattan too).  As you are likely reading this, George Clooney's "The Ides of March" has opened the 61st Venice Film Festival and unceremoniously kicked of the 2011-2012 awards season.  

After dramatic changes for the best picture category (5% is the new 10), possibly the scariest producer choice of all time in Brett Ratner (Joel Schumacher was seemingly unavailable), James Franco's increasingly blunt comments about his co-hosting gig (time for a sabbatical James) and a legal battle for control of the Golden Globes broadcast rights (eventually NBC wins and we all lose) it really doesn't seem like that long ago we were celebrating the end of another long season.  But "The King's Speech"?  "The Social Network"?  Natalie Portman? Melissa "Consider This" Leo?  Ah, distant memories.  Beginning today, we have so much to look forward to.

Thursday this globe-trotting pundit will find himself on a plane to sunny Colorado where we'll return to cover the ever-friendly Telluride Film Festival (shhh, don't tell anyone how great it is, our little secret, O.K.?) before heading to the Great White North alongside HitFix's Film Editor, Drew McWeeny, to attend my eighth straight Toronto International Film Festival (how time flies).  In the meantime, August can't end without another edition of my annual "Oscar in August" predictions.

Last year was a banner year on the early prediction front.  Every single one of my calls were right including Leonardo DiCaprio being shut out of the best actor race for "Inception," James L. Brooks' having a non-player in "How Do You know," Annette Bening's best actress nod and "Inception," "Social Network" and "Toy Story 3" being best picture locks among others."

*O.K., I was just 98% right.  "Tron: Legacy" didn't make the visual effects race, but I got "Inception" and "Iron Man 2" right. Sue me.

This year?  Obviously, the new best picture rules make things much more interesting or stressful (depending on how you see it), but there are some calls that this prognosticator has no problem making a little under five months before the nominations are handed out.*

*And yes, this writer will continue to refer to himself in the third person as much possible.  Just because he knows how much you love it (and you know who you are).

"Cars 2" won't keep the Pixar magic going
The worst reviewed film in Pixar history might have benefited Disney's bottom line, but John Lasseter's creative genius took a bit of a hit with this excuse to extend a toy franchise.  Luckily for Disney, the animated field may be slim this year.  "Rango" is the frontrunner, but the uneven "Rio" is an unsteady player while "Arthur Christmas" and "The Adventures of TinTin" are unknown quantities. Still, there's an excellent chance Pixar finds itself shut out of the race for the first time since the category debuted in 2002. Ouch.

Prediction: Forget a best picture nod, "Cars 2" might not even receive a best animated feature nod.  And, it's certainly not winning.  On the other hand, "Rango" is a lock for a best animated feature nomination.

It's ingenue vs. old school for best actress

This year's best actress race may be more interesting than best picture when it comes down to it.  On one end of the spectrum you have Meryl Streep going for her long-deserved third statue for "The Iron Lady," Glenn Close trying to get her first as a man in "Albert Nobbs" and Viola Davis trying to sneak in for carrying "The Help."  On the other you have relative youngersters including Cannes winner Kristin Dunst ("Melancholia"), Elizabeth Olsen ("Martha, Marcy Mae, Marlene"), Michelle Williams ("My Weekend with Marilyn"), Abbie Cornish ("W.E") and Sundance winner Felicity Jones ("Like Crazy") trying to win their first. An that doesn't even include contenders such as Charlize Theron, Tilda Swinton, Jodie Foster or Kate Winslet.  Oh me, oh my.

Prediction: Either Elizabeth Olsen or Felicity Jones will be nominated for best actress. Both?  Ummm....

Scott Rudin vs. Harvey Weinstein once more
Just when you thought it was safe to return to the Academy campaign, the two biggest prestige power brokers are back in the game.  Longtime rivals and rare allies, producer Scott Rudin and producer/studio entrepreneur Harvey Weinstein have clashed on films they have made together ("The Hours," "The Reader"), campaigned against each other ("The Social Network"/"The King's Speech") and attempted to say nice things about each other in the press.  Now, it's on.  Once again.  Rudin has "Moneyball," "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close."  Weinstein has "W.E," "The Artist," "The Iron Lady" and "My Weekend with Marilyn."  Sigh, if only there were 10 guaranteed spots so everyone could be happy.

Prediction: Rudin and Weinstein films will face off for best picture once again.  How many each get into the ring remains to be seen.

There will be lots of second guessing over dropping the guaranteed 10 nominees system
Duh. The new rule requiring a nominee to land 5% of first place votes will find campaigners trying to convince voters to vote for the film they would have voted 2nd or 3rd (in the old weighted system) in first place (um, OK).  It's going to lead to lots of drama, unnecessary stress and a very confused membership when they see which films made the cut and which didn't.  You'll see.

Prediction:  There will not be 10 best picture nominees.  In fact, there may not be eight or nine.  And, yes, very deserving films will be left on the sidelines.

Popular summer hits won't be nominated for best picture
The 10 rule was put into effect make sure deserved films such as "The Dark Knight" and "WALL-E" weren't left out of the best picture race.  Over the past two years of the rule's existence, it allowed acclaimed summer releases such as "Inception," "Up," "District 9," "Inglourious Basterds" and "Toy Story 3" make the field.  Don't expect any of that this time around.

Prediction:
"Harry Potter and  the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2," "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," "The Help" and "Super 8" will not be nominated for best picture.

Woody Allen is back
75-years-old and with his biggest hit ever, Woody Allen will find himself back in the Academy's good graces.  A three-time winner and 21-time nominee, Allen's "Midnight in Paris" is a critic's favorite and legitimate box office hit with $51.6 million so far.  Allen was last nominated in 2006 in the original screenplay category for "Match Point" and sadly overlooked for "Vicky Christina Barcelona." That drought is about over.

Prediction: Allen's work in "Midnight in Paris" will be recognized in the best original screenplay category, but best picture or best director isn't a given. Not yet anyway.

It's the year of Jessica Chastain, but…
After banking a slew of significant movie roles over the past three years, Jessica Chastain finally had her theatrical coming out party as "Take Shelter" debuted at Sundance (in theaters this fall), "The Tree of Life" hit Cannes, "The Help" became a major summer hit, "The Debt" opens today, Berlin programmer "Coriolanus" arrives this fall, "Texas Killing Fields" debuts at Toronto and Al Pacino's "Wild Salmoe" premieres at Venice.  And yet, as amazing as she is in "Take Shelter," "The Help" and "The Tree of Life" landing best actress or best supporting actress nods will be very tough to come by.

Prediction: It will be close, but Chastain will not land an Oscar nod for any of her acclaimed roles.

George Clooney will return to the Kodak Theater
Is it 2006 all over again?  That's the year Clooney found himself with a slew of nominations for his directorial effort "Good Night, and Good Luck." but his first win was for his back-breaking role in "Syrianna."  Now, Clooney could experience deja vu with "The Ides of March," which he co-wrote, produced, directed and has a supporting role in and a leading performance in Alexander Payne's "The Descendants."   

Prediction: Whether as best director, best picture (producer), best adapted screenplay or best supporting actor for "The Ides of March" or for best actor for "The Descendants,"George Clooney will land at least his sixth nomination in 2012.

"The Tree of Life" will thrive in the below-the-line categories
There may not be any film more polarizing among critics, moviegoers and the industry than Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life." Winner of the Palm d'Or (never a good omen for Oscar), "Life" has its passionate supporters but it was a disappointment on the art house circuit and even star Sean Penn has come out against Malick's editing choices on the film.  Again, a picture only needs 5% of the first place votes to try and get one of 10 slots, but a best picture nod feels dicey at the moment.

Prediction: "Life" is a lock for visual effects and cinematography.  Don't bet on anything else.

Billy Crystal will save Brett Ratner and Don Misher from the worst show ever
The Academy gave Brett Ratner the co-producing job no one else really wanted (truth hurts) only to have the media and industry reaction be worse than anyone expected (and they must have known it wasn't gonna be good).  Like a white knight riding in over the Malibu hills, beloved longtime and former host Billy Crystal has made it clear he's willing to return. In fact he's made that privately clear for a number of years, but now they really need him.

Prediction:
Billy Crystal will host and he'll basically be a defacto co-producer making sure the show doesn't go off track. Whew?

An actor you've likely never hard of, Jean Dujardin, is gonna make a quiet splash

There is a movie that is ripe to be an art house favorite this winter entitled "The Artist."  Shot in Hollywood in black and white and - gasp - in a silent movie style, Michel Hazanavicius' charmer is going to win over the industry quicker than Sarah Palin makes friends at a Tea Party rally.  Hollywood loves movies about themselves (they really do) and this romantic look at the transition from silent movies to "talkies" is going to be a big favorite.  The film has an excellent chance of landing a best picture not (not quite a lock yet), but leading man Jean Dujardin?  Well...

Prediction: Pencil Jean Dujardin in for a best actor nomination.  Trust me.

What do you think of this August's Oscar predictions?  Share your thoughts below.

For year-round entertainment commentary and awards season analysis follow Gregory Ellwood on Twitter @HitFixGregory.

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